We hope you all had a good February! While we at the library know full well that this is a busy time in the semester, we also realize that you might want to spend your limited free time in the company of a good book, or maybe pick up a new title just in time for spring break. If that describes you, then look no further! Here are some interesting titles from our New & Noteworthy collection. On the off chance none of these titles grab your attention, however, then don’t worry. We’re always adding new popular titles to both our New & Noteworthy and Overdrive ebook collections, so we encourage you to take a look at both of them. Happy reading!
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. This debut novel by poet Jeffers, nominated for last year’s National Book Award for fiction, chronicles the multigenerational and multicultural history of the African American Garfield family, anchored by the late 20th century events surrounding its protagonist, Ailey Garfield. Interspersed with the main narrative thread of Ailey’s educational experiences and family research, in which she divides her time between an unnamed city and her family’s ancestral hometown in rural Georgia, are segments, referred to as songs, that delve into the histories of her individual ancestors of African, Creek, and Scottish origin. As Ailey learns more about these ancestors, so too does she come to understand her present-day family. As the title suggests, too, the works of W.E.B. Du Bois play a prominent role, informing both the content of the novel as well as its very structure. You can read reviews here and here.
Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes by Barnaby Phillips. In this book, journalist Phillips offers a comprehensive and compelling history of the Benin Bronzes, metal plaques and ivory artworks dating from the 13th through 18th centuries in the Edo Kingdom, located in what is now southern Nigeria. Prior to 1897, most of the bronzes were kept in the royal palace of Benin City for the kingdom’s rulers, but this changed when British forces invaded, an act that ultimately led to the downfall of the Edo Kingdom and the establishment of the British Southern Nigeria Protectorate. During the invasion, the bronzes were sacked by the British and taken back to England as loot, where many remain today. Although Phillips notes that the Nigerian government has repeatedly called for the repatriation of the bronzes since 1974, this has largely been ignored. Today, most remain in Europe (specifically the UK), with still others scattered across Canada and the United States. In addition to relaying this fraught history, Phillips also makes his own case for repatriation and delves into the mindset of many of the institutions still possessing the bronzes in Europe. You can read more here and here.
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen. This novel, Galchen’s second, tells the story of Katharina, a German woman accused of witchcraft in 1615. Based on historic events–several hundred women were executed for alleged witchcraft throughout the Holy Roman Empire in the seventeenth century–Katharina finds herself the object of suspicion in her small town for a confluence of seemingly ridiculous reasons: she is a widow, perceived to be too independent by those around her, and is not particularly well-liked. Most importantly, she has been accused of poisoning a local woman. Though the accusation itself is baseless, Katharina finds that many people in her community are all too eager to testify against her, seemingly determined to portray her as a malicious witch bent causing harm to anyone and everyone. Though the novel is peppered with dark humor (often in the form of Katharina’s dry mental observations about those around her), the subject matter, and the course of the story, prove to be rather harrowing. You can read reviews here and here.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith. In this book, Atlantic staff writer Smith studies the way the history and legacy of slavery in the United States has been dealt with at nine historic sites (eight in the US, and one abroad). As Smith observes, each site reckons with the subject quite differently—he contrasts, for example, the centering of enslaved people’s lives at Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation with the glorification of the Confederacy at Virginia’s Blandford Cemetery—reflecting the contradictory and tumultuous understanding of slavery present in American culture at large. Smith’s depiction of these sites is multi-faceted and richly described, in no small part because he interviews such a wide range of people, including tourists and tour guides, historians and other experts, and formerly incarcerated people. In presenting such a complex picture of historical reception in the contemporary United States, Smith offers a compelling and extremely relevant read. You can read reviews here and here.
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins. This novel, Watkins’ second, traces the story of one fictional writer named Claire Vaye Watkins as she travels away from her husband and newborn child in Michigan for a book event in Nevada (despite the character having the same name and a number of characteristics as Watkins, the novel is fictional). In the throes of postpartum depression, Claire finds herself in crisis, and she takes the time away from her orderly life in Michigan as an opportunity to reassess the decisions she has made, to confront a variety of personal issues she has been avoiding, and, more unfortunately, to unravel somewhat. Having grown up in the west, her travels reunite her with several relics from her past, including a group of living college friends as well as a dead ex-partner. As Claire grapples with her own grief and reckons with her own life, she acts a witness towards those around her who are struggling with similar issues. Though the novel is often disorienting, it remains a cogent examination of grief, depression, poverty, drug addiction, and a host of other themes. You can read reviews here and here.